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The investments by Corning and CommScope are being spurred by the infrastructure program passed by Congress in 2021.
Good news for people who like “better internet service in rural areas” news: Corning and CommScope, tech companies that produce the fiber optic cable that underpins modern telecommunications, are expanding their manufacturing operations in North Carolina.
Yes, that’s right: It’s more Made in America news from North Carolina. A day after President Biden visited the Tar Heel state to talk about semiconductor manufacturing investments being made there, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo stopped by to highlight the money going into the manufacture of material needed to build out the country’s Internet infrastructure.
Since 2020, Corning has spent $500 million to expand its footprint in the state, and CommScope has a $50 million investment planned. Taken together it will go a long way to fulfilling a goal of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) – the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed by Congress in 2021 – which set aside $65 billion to expand broadband access in rural parts of the United States. Lack of reliable Internet access remains a serious problem for tens of millions of Americans, even as much of our daily lives moves online.
NPR produced a good article a few years ago that highlighted the access problems rural communities deal with on the regular:
Three days and one hour into the 2021-22 school year, the internet went out at Owhyhee Combined School in northern Nevada.
Teachers scrambled to recreate their lesson plans and presentations, and could not log attendance.
“We don’t have a way to ensure that students are in the right classes at the right moment,” said Lynn Manning-John, vice principal at the K-12 school.
“We did have a student exhibiting COVID symptoms this morning, so finding that student’s data in order to reach their family is also something we can’t do because we don’t have the internet.”
The expanded manufacturing operations announced in North Carolina will go a considerable way to addressing connectivity problems like those described above. As mentioned, tens of billions of dollars has been allocated to fund the expansion of Internet access into corners of the country where Internet service remains spotty.
What’s more, Corning has announced an agreement with the NTCA – the Rural Broadband Association – that dedicates a portion of the cable built at its North Carolina facility to small, rural providers and broadband co-operatives. It expects its expansion will create hundreds of manufacturing jobs in a state where it already employs around 5,000 workers. CommScope, meanwhile, expects its investment to create another 250 factory jobs over the next five years.
And, it should be noted, these capital investments in North Carolina will help keep the federal government’s ongoing infrastructure rollout American-made and compliant with the expansion of Buy America rules the IIJA included.